New Age Islam Edit Bureau
08 May 2018
Women Driving: We Aren’t Prepared
By Khalid Al-Sulaiman
The Worst Is Yet To Come For Iran
By Abdullah Bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
Turkey’s Syrian Occupation May Be Self-Defeating
By Chris Doyle
Palestinians Only Want To Fight For Freedom, Not Factionalism
By Ramzy Baroud
Saudi Arabia’s Quality Of Life Program Vs Sceptics
By Salman Al-Dosary
Iran’s Not So Straightforward Exit from JCPOA
By Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
07 May 2018
ONLY few weeks separate us from women driving in June but the concerned bodies, especially the traffic department, have not yet announced any strategies or plans for the historic step.
The concerned departments have not revealed their plans to accommodate the tens of thousands of cars which will enter the already crowded streets.
Government departments, offices and the commercial places where women work do not have sufficient parking areas for women drivers.
I thought when the royal decree allowing women to drive was issued months back and set June as a deadline for the execution of the historic decision, was aimed at giving the concerned authorities enough time to prepare for women taking the wheels.
They should have used this time to prepare the streets for the entry of thousands of cars but nothing has been done.
Public transport projects have added to the narrowness of the streets and have also increased congestion.
I am looking forward to the department of traffic, universities for girls, the hospitals and other offices where women work to announce their plans and strategies for the women driving which is approaching very soon.
These institutions should not leave things to take care of themselves. Organization of smooth traffic and the provision of enough car parks are all organizational matters which cannot happen haphazardly. Something must be done before women sit behind the wheels. These matters should not be left to the awareness of women drivers alone. We have to set the stage for our women to drive.
By Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
7 May 2018
Observers of the Iranian situation can clearly see that Iran is not living its best days during this historical phase in the region and the world.
Iranian decision makers have not yet understood or comprehended that what’s happening today on the domestic, regional and international levels against Iran is not a conspiracy but it’s simply a natural result of the regime’s policies and strategies over the past four decades.
On the domestic level, the Iranian people have been protesting on and off despite all the oppression and the expansion of dictatorial apparatuses following the Green Movement in 2009. There are still protests which have spread to different cities instead of decreasing.
The people have reached a point where they realize that there’s no hope from the regime of the guardian of the jurist which they know it will never be reformed or amended.
On the regional level – and with reservations over the clerics’ interferences in politics – we can notice three interesting cases in Arab countries which the Iranian regime has bragged that it controls their decision making process.
In Iraq, the highest Shiite marja (reference) in the country Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa (religious edict) warning of corrupt people and of those who failed from among the political category that dragged the Iraqi state and the people to the abyss and allowed the spread of sectarianism and terrorism and looted all of Iraq’s fortunes.
Sistani also said that this category has direct contact with what he called foreign states, i.e. the Iranian regime that’s violating Iraq’s sovereignty and hijacking the political decision.
The size of the dispute between Sistani and the traditional reference he represents, and which maintains the spirit of the Shiite sect, with what the guardian of the jurist’s regime represents as a version of a political Islam version within the Shiite sect, and which does not have any real religious roots, is well-known.
In Lebanon, many Lebanese citizens have complained about the political process in the country and voiced their rejection of Hezbollah’s hijacking of the Shiite sect and state and its monopoly of the Shiite representation by force, violence and threats.
Hezbollah has engaged Lebanon’s Shiites in uncalculated adventures and sent youths to be killed in battles which they have nothing to do with, such as in Syria and Yemen, and involved them in international crimes related to terrorism and drug trafficking. The attempt to end Hezbollah’s monopoly of the Shiite representation thus carries significant symbolism at this stage.
In Yemen, the Houthis’ fate has become semi-finalized on the short term. On the long term, it’s definitely finalized. The world is talking in details about the militias’ crimes, brutality, bloodiness and ideological stubbornness which have led to their political failure and incapability to engage in any political settlement. The fall of the Houthi model in Yemen is just around the corner and it’s only a matter of time.
Morocco has recently severed its ties with Iran – a move that was widely supported by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Morocco’s decision is a natural result of the Iranian regime’s behavior and its military support of the separatist Polisario Front. Morocco has been well-aware of the non-sectarian political and cultural Shiism which Iran has been managing in the country.
However, the situation reached a decisive phase due to direct military support. Morocco’s rejection of the Iranian project in the region is a success to be added to many previous successes. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has documents which prove Iran has not stopped developing its nuclear program despite the deal it signed with the P5+1 group.
If this is proven right, it will undermine this bad deal which the Obama administration reached with the Iranian regime and which allowed Tehran to expand, play with ballistic missiles and threaten the stability of Arab countries, primarily the Saudi kingdom. If these documents are true, they will support the vision of the Trump administration towards the Iranian regime’s evil role in the region and the world and its threats against the future of the world.
On the international level, the world is heading in the direction of condemning the Iranian regime and confronting it with all the required force over its flagrant violations of international laws and its policies which support chaos, extremism and terrorism.
In this significant historical phase on the level of international conflicts, North Korea is headed towards openness towards its southern neighbors and is attempting to communicate with the world and end a period of decades when it represented a factor for instability in East Asia and the world.
Following serious threats of military escalation between the US and North Korea, the latter seems to be in a phase in which it’s responding to pressure and opening a new page. A meeting between the American president and the North Korean president is being arranged in the next few weeks.
After mitigating North Korea’s crisis and international role, and after Trump unified his administration to make it more harmonious towards the Iranian regime – via the appointment of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and John Bolton as national security advisor – Iran seems to be living its worst days.
Meanwhile, Europe’s resistance in Britain, France and Germany has lessened as they begun to acknowledge the defects in the Iranian nuclear deal and to voice the importance of developing it upon pressures from the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. Iran’s days are thus headed towards what’s worse.
On May 12, Trump will announce his final position from the nuclear deal with Iran – a deal he described as the worst in history. The Iranian regime will find itself alone before a world that’s uniting against it and against its policies and it will realize that the worst is yet to come.
The new Saudi Arabia has worked hard to expose the threat of the Iranian regime and sought to besiege its destructive activities via political, diplomatic and military professional approaches which included both hard and soft power. The kingdom has also garnered major gains that are increasing with time, and it has associated these efforts and decisiveness with wisdom and patience.
May 07, 2018
In the northern Syrian city of Jarablus, Syrian police are training. New forces — not answerable to the Syrian regime in Damascus — parade in a courtyard. They chant in unison, “Long Live Syria.” But there is a sting in the tail, “Long Live Turkey,” followed by “Long Live Erdogan.” The recruits salute the new foreign overlord of much of northern Syria.
Elsewhere, the Turkish flag can be seen flying over the health ministry, a branch of Turkey’s own health service. The Turkish postal service has set up a post office. In schools, Syrian children are learning a new language; yes, Turkish. Are they meant to grow up as hybrid Syrian-Turks?
Turkey is engaging in a major rebuilding program in northern Syria that also includes a 200-bed hospital at Al-Bab, as well as schools and an industrial zone. The needs are obviously huge. Yet is the agenda merely humanitarian?
So just how ambitious is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in northern Syria? Turkey claims that its actions in Operation Euphrates Shield, which saw it capture 2,225 square kilometers of territory northeast of the city of Aleppo stretching to the western bank of the Euphrates, and in Operation Olive Branch in Afrin were designed solely to push back and defeat both the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh.
Turkey is also increasingly exerting control in Idlib, one of the de-escalation zones under the Astana process. Erdogan claims that: “We don’t have a wish to occupy these lands but we want the rightful owners to go back there.” Nevertheless, Turkey has built military bases in these areas and no timetable to withdraw forces has even been hinted at.
Yet the duration of the Turkish presence and the increasing intensity of its actions on the ground to shift the demographics and identity of these areas hint at a longer term goal. Around 140,000 people have been displaced by the Turkish invasion of Afrin, but Turkey has also brought in Syrian Arabs to replace the fleeing Syrian Kurds.
Perhaps Ankara hopes to settle some of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees it hosts in these areas. The Syrian regime accuses Turkey of leading a Turkification of the area, although any accusations from this direction take rank hypocrisy to dizzying heights.
Certainly Turkey has dealt a huge blow to Syrian Kurdish ambitions. All hopes of linking the two Kurdish zones of northern Syria are now but a pipe dream, which will please both Ankara and Damascus. Yet Turkish encroachment could still grow as Erdogan has indicated a desire to increase the size of its zone by capturing Manbij, and even go as far south as Raqqa.
For the remains of the Syrian Arab opposition, the Turkish-controlled areas remain their last vestige of hope and refuge. The Syrian Interim Government in theory exercises a degree of municipal control over the Euphrates Shield areas, but real power lies with the armed groups.
Turkey’s ambitions will be determined in large part by how it juggles its tense relationship with the two superpowers, the United States and Russia.
The US has been critical of Turkey’s role in Afrin, calling for those displaced to be allowed back to their homes. The new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, would appear not to be in thrall to Erdogan’s Turkey on the basis of a 2016 tweet labelling it “a totalitarian Islamist dictatorship.” Moves are also afoot in Congress to pause sales of advanced weaponry to Turkey.
Erdogan is furious that the US continues to back the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the YPG that Turkey sees as a terrorist group with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). YPG forces certainly appear to venerate the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Russia is less publicly critical but tensions are rarely far from the surface. Moscow did not interfere in the Turkish invasion of Afrin, leading many to suspect another under-the-table deal between the two countries. Still, the official Russian position is that Afrin should be returned to the control of the Syrian regime, which withdrew in 2012.
Regional and international powers have shown little concern for the ethnic and sectarian divisions their actions are sowing. Turkey used its Syrian Arab proxies in Afrin to fight the Kurds. Syrian Arab fighters of the Syrian National Army then engaged in a looting spree in the city of Afrin — actions that will long be remembered by the Kurdish citizens.
The costs of the Turkish involvement in Syria will only escalate, and they are not merely financial. The ethnic and sectarian disputes Ankara stirs up in the unstable regions it occupies will be mirrored in Turkey.
The pursuit of narrow self-interests risk coming at the expense of the broader need to end the war in Syria, which would be by far the greatest advance for genuine Turkish security needs. The alternative may see Syrians in these areas losing faith with their occupier, and chanting markedly different slogans about Turkey and Erdogan than those heard in Jarablus.
The Gaza border protests must be understood in the context of the Israeli occupation, the siege and the long-delayed “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. However, they should also be appreciated in a parallel context: Palestine’s own factionalism and infighting.
Factionalism in Palestinian society is a deep-rooted ailment that has, for decades, thwarted any unified effort at ending the Israeli military occupation and apartheid. The Fatah and Hamas political rivalry has been catastrophic, for it takes place at a time when the Israel colonial project and land theft in the West Bank are occurring at an accelerated rate.
In Gaza, the siege continues to be as suffocating and deadly. Israel’s decade-long blockade, regional neglect and a prolonged feud between factions have all served to drive Gazans to the brink of starvation and political despair.
The mass protests in Gaza, which began on March 30 and are expected to end on May 15, are the people’s response to this despondent reality. It is not just about underscoring the right of return for Palestinian refugees; the protests are also about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving a voice back to the people.
Inexcusable actions become tolerable with the passing of time. So has been the case with Israel’s occupation that, year after year, swallows up more Palestinian land. Today, the occupation is, more or less, the status quo.
The Palestinian leadership suffers the same imprisonment as its people, and geographic and ideological differences have compromised the integrity of Fatah as much as Hamas, deeming them irrelevant at home and on the world stage. But never before has this internal division been weaponised so effectively so as to delegitimize an entire people’s claim for basic human rights. The message seems to be that “the Palestinians are divided, so they must stay imprisoned.”
The strong bond between US President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being accompanied by a political discourse that has no sympathy for Palestinians whatsoever. According to this narrative, even families protesting peacefully at the Gaza border is termed a “state of war,” as the Israeli army declared in a recent statement.
Commenting on the Israeli killing of scores and wounding of hundreds in Gaza, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, repeated a familiar mantra while on a visit to the region: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”
Thus, Palestinians are now trapped: West Bankers are under occupation, surrounded by walls, checkpoints and Jewish settlements, while Gazans are under a hermetic siege that has lasted a decade. Yet, despite this painful reality, Fatah and Hamas seem to have their focus and priorities elsewhere.
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Accords, Fatah dominated Palestinian politics, marginalized its rivals and cracked down on any opposition. While it operated under the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, it still thrived financially as billions of dollars of aid money poured in. The PA has also used its financial leverage to maintain its control over Palestinians, thus compounding the oppressive Israeli occupation and various forms of military control.
Since then, money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. “Donors’ money,” billions of dollars received by the PA in Ramallah, has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive financial racket with many benefactors and beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment today is skyrocketing.
Throughout his conflict with Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas never hesitated to collectively punish Palestinians to score political points. Starting last year, he took a series of punitive financial measures against Gaza, including the suspicious PA payments to Israel for electricity supplies to Gaza, while cutting off salaries to tens of thousands of Gaza’s employees.
This tragic political theatre has been taking place for more than 10 years without the parties finding common ground to move beyond their scuffles. Various attempts at reconciliation were thwarted, if not by the parties themselves, then by external factors. The last such agreement was signed in Cairo last October. Although initially promising, it soon faltered.
In March, an apparent assassination attempt on PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had both parties accusing one another of being responsible. Hamas contended that the culprits were PA agents bent on destroying the unity deal, while Abbas readily accused Hamas of trying to kill the head of his government.
Hamas is desperate for a lifeline to end the siege on Gaza and killing Hamdallah would have been political suicide. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure stands in ruins thanks to successive Israeli wars, which killed thousands. The siege is making it impossible for Gaza to be rebuilt, or for the ailing infrastructure to be repaired.
Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians protested at the Gaza border, both Fatah and Hamas offered their own narratives, trying to use the protests to underscore, or hype, their own popularity among Palestinians. Frustrated by the attention the protests have provided Hamas, Fatah attempted to hold counter rallies in support of Abbas throughout the West Bank. The outcome was predictably embarrassing as only small crowds of Fatah loyalists gathered.
Later, Abbas chaired a meeting of the defunct Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah to tout his supposed achievements in the Palestinian national struggle. The PNC is considered the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the PLO, it has been relegated for many years in favor of the Fatah-dominated PA. The PA leader handpicked new members to join the PNC to ensure the future of all political institutions conforms to his will.
In the backdrop of such dismaying reality, thousands more continue to flock to the Gaza border.
Palestinians, disenchanted with factional division, are laboring to create a new political space, independent from the whims of factions; because, for them, the real fight is the one against Israeli occupation, for Palestinian freedom and nothing else.
By Salman al-Dosary
Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life program alongside its 234-page executive summary, announced by the Economic and Development Board last week, was a down-to-the-letter exceptionally gratifying read.
Why? ! In short, because the program goes beyond a vision and into noting down operational details with clear-cut numbers, specific timelines and initiatives set for fulfilling the ultimate goal of making Saudi Arabia the best place to live in for citizens and residents alike.
The program relies on two axes: the first being the development of the individual's lifestyle and the second being the enhancement of overall quality of life in the kingdom.
Upgrading the local environment so that it offers a new array of options that get citizens and residents involved in cultural, recreational and sporting activities is a part of the program’s plan for developing an individual’s lifestyle in the Kingdom.
On the second hand, widening the scope of activities inside the kingdom, diversifying the economy, and planning for at least three Saudi cities to rank top worldwide, will advance the Kingdom’s agenda on improving the overall quality of life in the kingdom.
Quality of Life 2020 aims to include at least three Saudi cities in the list of the top 100 cities in the world to live in by 2030. The program isn’t only focused on long-term goals but has set immediate goals to work.
Year 2022 is the deadline for promoting social sports activities, achieving excellence in several regional and global sports, and developing and diversifying recreational opportunities, meeting the needs of the population.
Rehabilitating Economic Zones
These goals are set to indirectly improve services provided in Saudi cities such as utilities, public transport, and urban landscape, as well as push the establishing of special areas and rehabilitating economic zones.
More so, the initiative is that it is only one of twelve other key programs identified by the Economic and Development Council as strategically vital for Saudi Arabia to achieve the goals of Kingdom Vision 2030.
Implementing programs in Saudi Arabia is being backed with effective cooperation between state ministries and institutions—nationwide, initiatives cannot be achieved if state bodies operate on an isolated-island principal.
In order to achieve satisfactory results on improving main aspects of life, such as infrastructure, transport, housing, urban design, environment, health care, economic and educational opportunities, security and the social environment, progress must be tightly tied to strict performance indicators.
It goes without saying that improving quality of life in Saudi cities will reflect positively on the welfare of citizens and residents, as well as visitors and tourists.
Developing strong infrastructure in Saudi cities, providing comprehensive services, enhancing social interaction, and offering both quality and diverse lifestyle choices are factors that motivate people and enhance social livelihood. It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is stepping into an astounding future.
However, some sceptics choose to focus on the obstacles. Pessimists at every corner watch out closely for the smallest misfortunes to put to question the validity of change. They remain hesitant to believe that positive change is actually happening in Saudi Arabia.
It is true that the same people were blaming Saudi Arabia for its steadfastness and lack of flexibility in change, have now become full-time sceptics. They themselves never believed that Saudi Arabia would have a vision and a future project of such astronomical scale.
Nevertheless, doubters aren’t to be blamed-- it is not easy for them to imagine that a new Saudi Arabia is launched and won't slow down until it achieves listed aspirations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and sceptics will day by day be dismissed with ground-hard facts.
The world is waiting in suspense for May 12 to find out whether Iran sanctions will be waived or not.
US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama Administration between the “P5+1” – comprising the UN Security Council permanent five members, US, UK, France, Russia, China, plus Germany – and Iran.
Referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, or alternatively, he has even described it as “the worst deal ever”.
A narrower “EU-3” of British, French, and German negotiators, in close consultations with Brian Hook, the US State Department director of policy planning, have in recent weeks been negotiating a new framework to address the US concerns with JCPOA, incorporating and adding to its existing terms that may eventually be accepted by the White House. However, it is a very big bet.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron presented the broad outlines of that proposal to President Trump, with a follow-up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It calls for a series of separate new agreements, in effect a “JCPOA Plus,” although the White House may prefer to present it as an entirely new, more comprehensive “Framework Agreement.”
Following his rather extraordinary state visit and over-effusive show of friendship between the two presidents, Macron suggested that Trump might choose to exit the JCPOA anyway.
Not A Binary Choice
But it is not as simple as it sounds, as that would not be an immediate May 12 binary choice – yes or no. Even if Trump refuses to extend the specific waivers on Iran sanctions up for review on that date, sanctions may not be immediately reinstated and enforced.
And the US could, in theory – as Secretary of State designee Mike Pompeo suggested in testimony before the Senate – even continue to renegotiate the existing JCPOA.
An announcement of the re-imposition of the 2012 National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) would pull Iranian-oil importing countries Japan, South Korea, India, and China back into the US sanctions cross fire, even if not immediately. That would almost immediately put a chill on Iran’s ability to export oil.
Under the 2012 National Defence Authorization Act, an announcement to end the waivers would re-start the process of requiring countries to “significantly reduce” oil imports from Iran, and requiring any countries that do import from Iran to seek exemptions to avoid secondary financial sanctions from the US on their own state-owned financial institutions and central banks.
Even with those exemptions, they will still be required to “significantly reduce” their oil imports from Iran. In the past, the most directly affected countries have been China, Japan, South Korea, and India. Sanctions may not be immediately enforced, and they will require the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to re-designate and tag affected entities.
An agreement in principle between the EU-3 and US should ideally come before the deadline on May 12 for the president to renew the waiver on a set of sanctions on Iran as agreed to by the Obama Administration after the 2015 JCPOA deal.
But that is just one in a series of rolling waivers. US sanctions on Iran came in four major pieces of legislation, each with its own mandated review period. The May 12 review will be for sanctions imposed under the 2012 NDAA (National Defence Authorization Act).
The other three sets of US sanctions are on a 180-day review period, and will come up for waivers in July. Those are for sanctions imposed under the ISA (Iran Sanctions Act), adopted in 1996 as the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, the 2012 TRA (Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act), and the 2012 IFCA (Iran Freedom and Counter proliferation Act).
These acts broadly impose restrictions on investments in Iranian oil production, terrorism financing, revolutionary guard activities, shipping, and insurance. When push comes to shove, it is entirely within the US rights legally to unilaterally re-impose any, or all, of those sanctions.
The White House could in theory even decide to find a reason to declare Iran in non-compliance under Sections 36 and 37 of the JCPOA and set the clock ticking on a multistage international review process towards the “snap back,” or re-imposition, of a different series of UNSC sanctions.
Whether or not an agreement comes in time for President Trump’s May 12 deadline for the extension of a set of US sanctions, if the trans-Atlantic partners are close, the May 12 deadline can be glossed over by the White House until the next series of sanction waivers comes due in July.
Even with a new deal, however, the path forward is fraught with substantial risk. First, an EU3 proposal must not only pass muster with the White House, but will need approval of the member states of the EU as well. It is already broadly assumed that UN Security Council member Russia will not agree to additional new measures, nor will fellow P5 member China.
But the biggest wild card may now lie in Iran, namely in how Tehran responds to what looks increasingly certain – at a minimum – will be an additional series of “measures” imposed on the regime – whether threatened against future potential actions, or enforced right off the bat.
Needless to say, it would all also cast a pall over negotiations the US is about to enter into with North Korea, especially after the successful North- South Korea talks on ending their state of war. With one potential world crisis being doused, the international community will not wish for another to take its place.